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Gary Lucas And Dean Bowman: The Hebrew Blues

It seems the oddest of musical pairings: a simple Jewish folk song called "Hinay Ma Tov," thought to be of Syrian origin, and a raw-edged, guitar-driven blues framework. What's more, the song has just one line, and it's a far cry from the blues. Drawn from Psalm 133, the Hebrew lyric reads, "Here's what is good and pleasant — for brothers to live together." Because opposites attract, it works.

Or maybe the song and style aren't that opposite after all. "The blues has a sweetness and purity of intent that underlines the message of the lyric," says guitarist Gary Lucas, who included "Hinay Ma Tov" on Chase the Devil, his new album of spiritual roots music, because he's loved the song ever since he used to sing it in Hebrew School, growing up as a Reform Jew in Syracuse.

Lucas' guitar starts the minor-key, two-chord song off with a gentle pizzicato touch, then adds fuzz, funk and some otherworldly squeaks and buzzes. Having just one sentence to sing isn't a handicap for ace jazz- and bluesman Dean Bowman, whose earnest, improvisatory vocals illustrate why "repeatin' the line, repeatin' the line," as Van Morrison puts it, can lead to trance-like ecstasy. Indeed, that's what Jews have been achieving with this Sabbath-welcoming song for who knows how many years. Only now, the words are set in a new genre. Call it Middle Eastern, Hebrew-language, Biblical-based blues.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.